Three-time WNBA champion and the league’s all-time assist leader Sue Bird was introduced Friday as a basketball operations associate with Denver Nuggets. Bird was not looking to get into NBA management when Nuggets president of basketball operations, Tim Connelly, reached out this fall, which she stated was a “perfect match” that aligned with her future goals.
The Seattle Storm recently defeated the Washington Mystics to capture their third champion in the last 14 years. Not to much time had passed before Connelly decided to reach out to Bird through a mutual friend former NBA champion Caron Butler. Butler was a contemporary of Bird’s dating back to their time at the University of Connecticut. Butler also played for Connelly during their time with the Wizards before Connelly moved to Denver.
Upon The Storm returned from Washington DC earlier this summer, Bird told King 5 News that she planned on coming back for her 17th season in the WNBA. As for the basketball operations associate position with Nuggets, she was quickly sold on the opportunity.
“It was really a perfect match because here they are giving me this amazing opportunity but also understanding that I’m still a player,” said Bird
“I still have a season, and I’m still preparing for that. It’s just, for me personally, the best of both worlds.”
After retiring from overseas play in 2014, Bird has been using the winter off-season to plan for life after basketball. Bird has called women’s college basketball games for ESPN in the past, last November she was a guest on Area 21 with Kevin Garnett. Along with Lindsay Whalen, Cynthia Cooper & Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, and Bird stated that the lifestyle of a coach wasn’t for her. She has stated that coaching has crossed her mind in the past, but she thought anything that involved a front office position would have to wait until she retired.
“I never thought of myself in a place to really seek that out because I was still playing,” Bird said. “I shouldn’t sit here and say this was my end goal, but of course coaching has always crossed my mind, of course, what it takes to build a championship team now that I’ve been part of a few, it always crosses my mind.”
Bird and Connelly discussed the position prior to the season and visited Denver last month to meet members of the Nuggets’ front office. The Nuggets have gotten off to a hot start this season with a 10-5 record and entering Friday third in the Western Conference Standings. They have the fourth-youngest roster in the NBA.
Bird sees similarities between the Nuggets roster and her young core in Seattle with the Storm. In 2017, they finished as an eight seed and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, but were able to run the table, and win it all in 2018.
“I just think what they have going is really exciting to be a part of,” Bird said. “It’s somewhat reminiscent to what I’ve actually gone through first-hand in the last couple years. The Storm was rebuilding. Not that Denver was rebuilding, but all of a sudden you blink and a couple of years go by, you’ve got this great young core, talented group that’s trying to make noise. With that, you’ve got that elder player. Obviously, that was me for the Storm. For Denver, it’s Paul [Millsap].
“It’s fun to be part of something that’s on the verge of a breakthrough. That’s kind of how I view the Nuggets. There’s going to be ups and downs, like every season, but that’s how I view them. It’s exciting.”
Bird is the latest women playing in the WNBA to land a position with an NBA franchise. Former San Antonio Star Becky Hammon is currently an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs; Jenny Boucek is a former head coach of Seattle Storm, and now is an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks with a focus on player development. Prior to that, she was in a similar role with the Sacremento Kings. Big 3 Championship coach Nancy Liberman also began her coaching career in Sacramento as well in player development. Last month, Washington Mystics point guard Kristi Toliver accepted an assistant coaching position with the Washington Wizards.
Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak with Toliver about her expectations heading into the season with the Wizards.
“I’m hoping to learn as much as I can be around these guys every day. It has been a great experience, and I’m soaking it in. I just hope we can put together some wins and be part of a winning team. From a player or a coach, so, I’m just enjoying the ride, and hopefully, we can get some wins out it.” Toliver told me.
“I’m working being on the court with the guys every day helps me with my mind. So, I can kind of allow my body to rest; I would be overseas right now. So, I’m going to take advantage of the rest that I can get and at the same time staying sharp. I have been doing all the core works out with one of our assistant coaches and staying sharp in my skills in the things I want to get better at for the season. I’m very mindful that I’m still a player and have to stay on top of that.” Toliver told me.
Earlier this month, I spoke with Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jenny Boucek about the rebuilding process in Seattle with Sue Bird. Also, she shared what wanted to accomplish with the Mavericks this season.
”I’m so happy for those players in particular Sue Bird! When the franchise came to the realization that the group of players that we were showcasing had run its course, and it was time for a complete rebuild. That decision was made from the top down, in which Sue and I were heavily involved. I was asked to be the head coach and Sue was asked to lead in the locker room. We had a lot of internal discussions about whether this was something we wanted to do, and if she wanted to stay and go through the rebuilding process. After being a part of two championships, we decided to go through with it,” said Boucek.
”So, it is very exciting to see even though I wasn’t part of the final step, to lay out the plan for our owners and GM. They did ask me to help with a strategy to get the team back in championship contention, as quickly as possible. That was my role, and some of it is in your control, and some of it is not. But thankfully things went as well as could be expected, as far as going according to the plans. We knew it would be a 3 to 5-year process to get back in the hunt, and it took four years to win it.”
”I’m still continuing to try to learn this league, and I think the best coaches are always wanting to learn. John Wooden was a good friend of mine, and he always used to ask me every day that we spoke until the day that he passed away “Jenny what are you learning, what did you learn today?” and into his late 90s I would ask him back, he always had an answer. That is something that I will never forget, to keep learning every day of my life. I want to learn about being a better leader and become an asset to any organization that I am a part of, which right now is the Dallas Mavericks.”